INDEPENDENT 2024-02-26 16:34:28


Cat killer who told her lover that strangling man was ‘hot’ jailed for murder

A woman who live-streamed the dissection and killing of a cat has been jailed for life for murdering an innocent man by drowning him in a river.

Scarlet Blake, 26, prowled the streets of Oxford looking for a victim until she encountered Jorge Martin Carreno, 30, during the early hours of 26 July 2021.

She persuaded him to accompany her to the secluded Parsons Pleasure area, where she is believed to have hit him with an object, strangled him until he lost consciousness and then drowned him in the River Cherwell.

Jurors heard that Blake had a “fixation with violence and with knowing what it would be like to kill someone”, and received sexual gratification from the thought of death. After murdering Mr Carreno, she told a new partner that she had done so because “my lover said it would be hot”.

Just four months previously, she had live-streamed the horrific killing of a cat in a homage to the Netflix documentary Don’t F*** with Cats. After luring her neighbour’s pet with food and a crate, she dissected the animal, removing its fur and skin before placing its body in a blender.

During the video, the New Order song True Faith can be heard playing in the background while Blake can be heard saying: “Here we go my little friend. Oh boy, you smell like s***. I can’t wait to put you through the blender.”

She later kept its heart as a memento and posed with the animal’s severed head.

At the time, Blake had been in an online relationship with a woman, Ashlynn Bell, in the US, with the two frequently discussing gore, murder and strangulation together.

The court heard that Blake confessed her actions to Ms Bell, but told jurors in her evidence that she had carried out her violent actions to please her partner, who had wanted her to kill someone.

Jurors were shown videos of the defendant and Ms Bell engaging in consensual strangulation, with Blake tightening a ligature to the point her partner appeared to fall unconscious.

For two years, Mr Carreno’s fate was unknown despite CCTV appeals to identify Blake, until Ms Bell contacted Thames Valley Police in April 2023.

The Spanish national had been out socialising with work colleagues at a local pub and had been walking home when he encountered Blake, who offered him her bottle of vodka.

She had been wandering around the city’s streets and was seen on CCTV sizing up potential victims before settling on Mr Carreno, who was slighter in stature and more vulnerable after consuming alcohol.

Dressed in a heavy military-style jacket with a facemask, prosecutors suggested that she was carrying a “murder kit” in her rucksack, which consisted of a homemade garotte and a leopard print dressing gown chord.

She told jurors that she had walked with Mr Carreno to the secluded riverside area and left him there alive to go home, claiming she had no knowledge of how he died.

However, suggestions that he may have killed himself were rejected by his family and friends while a Home Office pathologist said he did not believe the BMW worker died accidentally.

It later emerged that Blake had spoken about her desire to kill in Parsons Pleasure as she knew it was “unseen and undisturbed” and had returned to the crime scene at least twice to take pictures to keep as mementos.

“The taking of these photographs showed a profound contempt for the suffering of Jorge’s family and loved ones,” the judge said. “You were completely indifferent to this suffering.”

During her evidence, Blake claimed she had a fragmented personality, which included being a cat, and meowed at the jury to show how she would interact with friends.

She also claimed that it was Ms Bell who had wanted her to kill a human after making her live-stream the killing of the animal.

Having moved to the UK from China when she was nine years old, Blake transitioned at the age of 12 and told the court she had a difficult relationship with her parents.

Accusing her of seeking to blame others for the murder, Mr Justice Chamberlain this was part of an “elaborate attempt to rationalise what you had done”

“It is not the fault of a society that didn’t accept you, it it not the fault of your parents,” he said. “Whatever role Ashlynn Bell may have played in encouraging your interest in killing, she remained in the US.

“She did not control or direct you. Even if the decision was motivated in part by a desire to please her, the decision to kill was entirely yours.”

He added that there had been a “clear sexual motivation” for the killing, and that Blake had used her status as a murdered to secure the admiration of others who shared her interests in violence.

She had denied murder but was found guilty after six hours of deliberations and has now been jailed for lifewith a minimum term of 24 years.

Mr Justice Chamberlain said: “Your decision to kill Jorge was not a reaction to something he had said or done. It was not a momentary mistake, It was not a decision made in anger or your emotions overcame you.

“It was a culmination of a plan you had been considering and formulating for months before and after 25 July as you showed an obsession with harm and death.”

Cruise ship denied docking after suspected cholera outbreak

A Norweigan cruise ship with more than 3,000 people on board has been refused docking in Mauritius after a suspected cholera outbreak.

15 people on the ship destined for the capital of Port Louis have been put into isolation due to potential cases of the illness.

The Norwegian Dawn had been scheduled to dock in Port Louis on Sunday, but it had skipped its Reunion Island stop and arrived in Port Louis a day earlier, the Mauritius Ports Authority said in a statement.

“The decision not to allow the cruise ship access to the quay was taken in order to avoid any health risks,” the authority said.

“The health and safety of passengers as well as that of the country as a whole are of the utmost to the authorities.”

It did not give any details about the nature of the health risk.

A spokesperson for the Norwegian Cruise Line, based in the US, said in a statement that during the ship’s trip to South Africa on 13 February, some passengers had experienced mild symptoms of a stomach-related illness.

Have you been affected by this incident? Get in touch with lydia.patrick@independent.co.uk

The ship’s management is working with Mauritian authorities to ensure precautions are in place and those on board are safe, the spokesperson added.

The port authority said its test results would be known in 48 hours. Officials at Mauritius’ health ministry were not immediately reachable for comment.

The ship has 2,184 passengers and 1,026 crew members. Of these, about 2,000 passengers would have disembarked in Port Louis after completing their cruise while another 2,279 new passengers had been expected to board the ship, the port authority said.

“Passengers who were due to board the ‘Norwegian Dawn’ and begin their cruise from Mauritius today will not be able to do so due to potential health risks,” it said.

Those who were disembarking or joining the cruise will now do so on Tuesday, the Norwegian Cruise Line spokesperson said.

The Independent has reached out to the Norwegian Cruise Line for comment.

Kyiv retreats from another frontline town as Zelensky claims attack plans were leaked

Ukrainian forces have withdrawn from a second eastern frontline town this month, a military spokesperson has announced, as Vladimir Putin’s forces push further into eastern Ukraine.

The Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) claimed it had taken over Lastochkyne, two kilometres west of Avdiivka, just hours after Ukrainian military spokesman Dmytro Lykhoviy announced their withdrawal on television.

Mr Lykhoviy said a new defensive line would be established a few kilometres west of the town, but earlier this month, Ukrainian soldiers evacuated Avdiivka to take up defensive positions in Lastochkyne.

The Independent has not yet seen visual confirmation of Russian soldiers in the town, though Ukrainian tracker DeepState has updated its map to include the area under Kremlin control.

It comes as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed that their counteroffensive plans had been leaked to the Kremlin last year.

The much-awaited summer counter attack, initially thought to be an offensive capable of ending the war, ended up largely as a failure.

He went on to say that Kyiv was preparing “several” versions of its battlefield strategy for 2024 to help avoid a repeat.

Woman loses injury claim after throwing Christmas tree

A court in Ireland has dismissed a woman’s £650,000 injury claim after a photograph emerged of her winning a Christmas tree-throwing competition.

Kamila Grabska, 36, said that her severe back and neck injuries from a car crash in 2017 prevented her from working and playing with her children. She had sued an insurance company, alleging that her injuries put a stop to her normal life for over five years.

However, the high court in Limerick, Ireland, dismissed her claim after the photograph surfaced of her winning the Christmas tree-throwing competition.

The judge found her claims exaggerated, the Irish Independent reported.

Justice Carmel Stewart was presented with evidence of Ms Grabska’s participation in the 2018 event, where she was seen throwing a 5ft spruce. The image, which had been featured in a national newspaper, led the judge to conclude the claims were “entirely exaggerated”.

“It is a very large, natural Christmas tree and it is being thrown by her in a very agile movement,” the judge said.

“I’m afraid I cannot but conclude the claims were entirely exaggerated. On that basis, I propose to dismiss the claim.”

Ms Grabska reportedly also admitted to the judge that she had won the competition. In the Christmas tree-throwing competition, participants compete to see who can hurl a spruce the farthest.

There was further evidence of her being physically active that contradicted her account, according to the paper. The evidence presented to the judge included a video of her training her Dalmatian in November last year in a park.

The judge ruled that Ms Grabska’s post-accident activities were “completely at odds” with her injury claims, leading to the dismissal of her case against the insurance company.

The court was informed that Ms Grabska, from Ennis, County Clare, had left her job and had been receiving disability benefits.

Ms Grabska refuted the idea that she had faked her injuries and told the court that her intention was just to “lead a normal life”.

Accepting you might not have children can feel wonderfully liberating

It’s a curious thing, scrolling through the dating app profiles of heterosexual men in their mid-forties. I only noticed it this time around the singles circuit, perhaps as a consequence of being older myself: the number of them who have written “not sure yet” next to the question of whether they want children.

I laughed out loud the first time I saw this. Imagine the luxury of being “not sure yet” at the age of 45! Imagine going through life without having to give it much thought or make a decision, because time was forever on your side…

It’s one of the fundamental remaining gender differences, for all that we’re continuing the fight to break down stereotypes and challenge accepted and often limiting norms. Women are told from the off that we have an expiration date – a time frame in which to achieve life’s biggest purpose. Men are not.

If we don’t attain the goal of motherhood within that window, we’re forced to confront and accept that script-change head-on. “There was a time when it was so upsetting I couldn’t really talk without crying,” bestselling author Elizabeth Day said of her fertility struggles in a recent interview with The Times. “It was horrible.”

The 45-year-old, who also presents the popular podcast How to Fail, was describing how she has finally made peace with the fact she doesn’t have children, after a “soul-crushing” 12-year journey that included failed rounds of IVF, miscarriages, divorce and constant disappointment. Having always imagined what her Hallmark movie-style life with perfect kids would look like, she started picturing “other stories that exist in this ecosystem, where actually I’m an older mother and things don’t turn out as planned. I found it helpful thinking with constructive pessimism about what it might be like for us to get the baby, but for it to feel not what we wanted it to. I experimented with the idea of giving myself permission not to do more fertility treatment. How would that feel in my body? And it felt amazing.”

Day has gone from believing her purpose on this planet is being a mother, to realising that her bigger purpose is “to speak for those who are not mothers or fathers, often not by choice”.

“That gives my life meaning, and that’s the thing I was worried I wouldn’t have,” she added. “The fact that I can talk about it without crying shows me that I’m in the right place.”

It’s a feeling I can deeply relate to. I don’t share Day’s story – at 36, and with no known fertility issues thus far, I’m not completely out of the running when it comes to motherhood – but I do know all too well the creeping realisation that the life you blindly assumed you’d have might not happen.

I always took it as a given that I would have kids. Was it because I’d always wanted them? Had thought about it maturely and responsibly and decided having a family was a priority? Had started feeling my womb skip a beat every time I inhaled the talcum-fresh scent of a baby’s head? Nope. Very much none of the above. I had instead accepted my future path based on the compelling argument that “it’s what people did” – and, in this regard, I was largely correct. My millennial friends and peers started popping them out from our late twenties onwards, and I never even considered a possible alternative. It seemed less of a choice than an inevitability.

It was only after my own long-term relationship resulted in a breakup rather than a walk down the aisle that I was forced to interrogate this long-held assumption, and whether motherhood was even something I particularly wanted. “You’re running out of time!” screamed popular culture, from the “tick-tock, tick-tock” of the smug marrieds in Bridget Jones’s Diary to the sharp-suited, big-city career women in romcoms who were only truly happy once they’d returned to their small town to fall in love with a local blacksmith and bear his children.

I remember an older friend telling me, with a sense of urgency, that I should proactively start planning: freeze my eggs; only date men who were seriously ready for marriage and a family. I thought about the question of “to baby or not to baby” constantly, like a fertility-mad Hamlet. It coloured the lens through which I viewed every facet of my life and relationships. So I stormed off in the other direction: I decided it wasn’t for me, that I hated kids and always had done, that I loved my child-free life and wanted nothing to change. Looking back, I now see this was a way of feeling in control of something I was patently not in control of – a means of swiftly reclaiming power. I was back in the driving seat: take that, universe!

But my hardline on the subject led to the breakdown of the best relationship I’d ever had. Once again, I was forced by pain to do the internal soul-searching that falls to women wrestling with the question of whether motherhood will be part of their story.

These days, I have made the toughest choice of all: to embrace uncertainty. There is no “destined” future. Nor can I live my life as if the decision were a guillotine hanging over my head. If I meet the right kind of person at the right kind of time, and everything works physically, who knows? I might have children. If I don’t, then I won’t. But I’m bizarrely grateful for the constraints of being a woman that mean I’ve had to work through my preconceived notions and rash retaliations to arrive at the place I’m in now. If the biological clock imperative often forces women to be more intentional in the way we shape our lives, it also prompts us to allow space for deep introspection and self-reflection. I truly believe reaching a place of acceptance – that the myth society told me about what my life “should” look like simply isn’t true – is one of the most liberating experiences a person can have.

I suppose I’m just as guilty of writing “not sure yet” next to the baby question now. But, for me, that “not sure yet” feels like a hard-won badge of honour – proof that I’ve finally come out the other side and surrendered to whatever the future has in store. Over to you, universe.

How to help create a smokefree generation

“Some people can just stop and then never smoke again, but for most it’s hard,” says Tim Eves a 45-year-old father of three from West Sussex.

“It’s just getting through those initial tough few months. Once you do the benefits hugely outweigh the stress of giving it up.”

Tim was a smoker for around 12 years, but gave up with help from a local support group who introduced him to nicotine patches and gum.

“I won’t pretend it isn’t hard,” he adds. “The first few months, you have it in your head that you’d love to have just one cigarette. But now, if we happen to be in the pub it doesn’t even enter my head.”

Taking the first step to go smokefree may sound daunting, but quitting smoking offers significant health benefits – and can save you money.

Tobacco is the single most important entirely preventable cause of ill health, disability and death in this country, responsible for 80,000 deaths in the UK each year.

It causes around 1-in-4 cancer deaths in the UK and is responsible for just over 70 per cent of all lung cancer cases.

Smoking also substantially increases the risk of many major health conditions throughout people’s lives, such as strokes, diabetes, heart disease, stillbirth, dementia and asthma.

Smoking increases the chance of stillbirth by almost half and makes children twice as likely to be hospitalised for asthma from second-hand smoking.

And a typical addicted smoker spends £2,400 a year.

Jo Howarth, 52, from St Helens, Merseyside, finally kicked her addiction after 20 years of on-and-off smoking.

“I was quite anti-smoking as a young teenager, but I started when I was 16 because I wanted to fit in with the cool crowd,” she says.

“I knew it was bad for me, but it was so hard to give up. I tried cold turkey, hypnotherapy and at one point I had a staple in my ear, but I never lasted more than about six months.

“After I got married, I wanted to conceive so I cut down to one a day but the moment I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, I stopped.

“As soon as the reason outweighed the addiction, I found a reason to stop and as a hypnotherapist I know that pinpointing why you’re addicted is the key to stopping.

“I used to think that smoking calmed me down, but now I realise that’s a myth – it was just the deep breaths I was taking while I did it. Without it I’m so much healthier and I’m determined to stay smokefree for my kids.”

Smokers lose an average of 10 years life expectancy – around one year for every four smoking years.

Smokers also need care on average 10 years earlier than they would otherwise have – often while still of working age.

‘’Smoking is based on addiction and most people wish they had never taken it up,” says Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer.

“They try to stop and they cannot. Their choice has been taken away. As a doctor I have seen many people in hospital desperate to stop smoking but they cannot.”

The government is now working on creating a smokefree generation.

The new proposals give citizens more freedom. Smoking is not a choice, it is an addiction, and the large majority of smokers and ex-smokers regret ever starting in the first place.

Creating a smokefree generation will be one of the most significant public health measures in a generation, saving thousands of lives and billions of pounds for our NHS and the economy, and levelling up the UK by tackling one of the most important preventable drivers of inequality in health outcomes.

New laws will protect future generations from ever taking up smoking as well as tackling youth vaping by:

Alongside the Bill, there will be new funding to support current smokers to quit by doubling the funding of local ‘stop smoking services’ (to nearly £140 million) as well as £30m of new funding to crack down on illicit tobacco and underage sale of tobacco and vapes.

We must do more to halt the growing threat to our politicians’ safety

Rishi Sunak is right to argue that a “dangerous signal” that “intimidation works” was sent in parliament last week when Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons speaker, judged that Labour MPs could face physical threats unless the party’s amendment on a ceasefire in Gaza and Israel was put to a vote. The crossing of this line – a worrying development – was partially obscured by the Commons chaos and the controversy that followed, which left the speaker fighting to keep his job.

The justified concern expressed by Mr Sunak and his ministers has also been eclipsed by the Conservatives’ latest unforced error – the inflammatory assertion by Lee Anderson, the party’s former deputy chair, that Sadiq Khan, the Labour mayor of London, is under the control of “Islamists”.

The prime minister’s warning that our democracy “cannot bend to the threat of violence and intimidation or fall into polarised camps who hate each other” would carry more weight were his party as serious about eliminating Islamophobia as it is about antisemitism. Mr Sunak’s statement on Sunday referred to an “explosion in prejudice and antisemitism” since the 7 October attack on Israel, but, remarkably, did not mention the rise in attacks aimed at Muslims. As The Independent reports today, the number of Islamophobic incidents logged has reached a record high.

Has Labour’s Rochdale debacle gifted George Galloway an open goal?

Voters in Rochdale will head to the polls on Thursday for one of the most controversial by-elections in recent history. What was set to be a straightforward contest to replace the late Labour MP Tony Lloyd, who died of blood cancer in January aged 73, has been mired by a series of scandals, with residents left facing an invidious choice.

Rochdale was considered a safe Labour seat, having been won with a comfortable 10,000 majority in 2019, but it is now anything but. Labour no longer has a candidate in the contest, and the front runner to win, George Galloway, is one of the most divisive figures in British politics.

So, how did it come to this, and what should voters look out for on Thursday?